Let’s just get it right out there that we’re grammar nerds. That’s why we majored in language and teach language, because we love language. We love how it fits together and changes and how systematic and yet unpredictable it is.
And we love the little labels. Words like pluscuamperfecto send little shivers up our spines.
Do you have pet grammar – those little nuggets you love to dwell on and explain? I do. I love explaining the accent and subject/verb switch on question words used in a statement (like “I don’t know where the book is”) because I wrote a whole paper on it for my syntax class in grad school. I love explaining why words like agua have el in front when they’re actually feminine and take a las when they’re plural because I stumped my college professor with that question and she had to research it to give me the reason.
Do you know why we love these things? It’s because we’re not normal. Sorry, but if we stick with saying things like “double object pronouns” and “personal a,” we’ll entice all the students who are grammar nerds like us (and by “all” I’m just trying to make us feel better – face it, there’s maybe one), but all the normal kids will get that grammar glaze over their eyes and tune us out. And forget acquisition.
So here’s my call for all language teachers to be subversive, to become an expert at the smokescreen, to put a mask on that grammar so it can sneak its way into becoming something useful. Keep up your heavy patterning and repetitions, keep using colors and size and tone to make students notice things, and keep harping on features that are keys to developing proficiency goals, the way past tenses are to narrating stories. But for the sake of becoming a profession of people who actually do what they say they do, let’s trash the labels.
Sometimes a label is helpful and in those occasions, how about giving the feature a label that has power, that actually describes what it does? For example, use descriptive past instead of imperfect. Or have/has phrases instead of present perfect. I’d even rather use something that includes the grammatical feature itself rather than a meaningless label: we call them verbs that use se rather than reflexive verbs. Or if a label isn’t helpful, throw it out altogether. Why teach double object pronouns when you can just walk through how they happen when you need them to do something communicative?
The dictionary has several definitions of jargon: 1) the language, especially the vocabulary, peculiar to a particular profession; 2) unintelligible or meaningless talk or writing, gibberish; 3) any talk or writing that one does not understand; 4) language that is characterized by uncommon or pretentious vocabulary and convoluted syntax and is often vague in meaning.
Let’s admit that the jargon isn’t helping develop proficiency and commit to finding new labels that do, or getting rid of them altogether.